Meet The People Who Quit Their Jobs And Gave Up Their Homes, All To Help India

A beautiful story of giving and compassion.

Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami come from very different backgrounds, but they are on the same mission. 

The pair have been traveling through rural India for the last two years, embarking on a project they call Rest Of My Family, doing their best to highlight the country's most important social issues through Shetty's passion for writing and Goswami's interest in filmmaking and documentaries. Moved by the kindness and compassion of the people they've met in their travels, they have given up their homes, their jobs and everything they own to continue their travel through rural India. But digging up stories proved not to be enough.

Photo by Piyush Goswami

"We were just documenting stories and publishing them and sort of getting our paycheck and moving on," Goswami told me over Skype. "It felt very incomplete in what we actually set out to do. We realized that the people we met who became like family to us, their lives were not changing for the better just because we were documenting the struggles of their lives. We wanted to see how we could actually make a difference."

Goswami grew up in one of the three poorest regions in India, in a place where 95 percent of the people live below the poverty line. Shetty, on the other hand, came to India from Bahrain after high school to do engineering.

"I've had a completely a different upbringing," Shetty said. "It was just a middle class family trying to make ends meet. I'm from south India and Piyush is from north India and north India is much more poverty-stricken than the south. Because of education and schools that have come to the south, they were able to eradicate a few issues."

The stories and the people that Shetty and Goswami have encountered are nothing short of amazing. They told me of a man who ran an entire school by himself, principal, teacher and everything else you can imagine. Goswami had a Swedish friend who he told about the school, and when he heard about the man, he sold Goswami's photographs back in Sweden and surprised him with the proceeds, which all went directly to the school. 

On another evening, this time in the dead of winter, they were traveling to Tso-Moriri in Ladakh when they became stuck in a blizzard. After managing to get their vehicle out of the snow, they landed in a Tibetan refugee village called Sumudhu. There, around a fire and in -25 degree weather, they listened to an old man named Namgayal tell his story of leaving Mount Kailash, Tibet. Despite being in India for 60 years, he never applied for citizenship because he still had dreams of returning to Tibet. 

Photo by Piyush Goswami
Photo by Piyush Goswami

"It's funny because if you talk about where India is at as far as evolution is concerned, we're still yet to go through the '60s like America had," Goswami told me. "We are still yet to have a change or evolution since our independence, and we are in fact the first generation in India to even think about doing this kind of thing because our parents were just happy getting a government job and safety."

Of course, neither Goswami nor Shetty's parents were thrilled on the idea. 

"I think our challenges are sort of unique," Shetty said. "In my case the discussion mostly revolves around how can a girl do this? And why isn't she married yet? It's a classic case of generation gap and hopefully it will change in the next generation. They haven't come to terms with the fact we have given up our lucrative jobs and are willing to struggle to do some good."

Photo by Piyush Goswami
Photo by Piyush Goswami

And that good can come in all different forms. Once, after Goswami met a 30-year-old villager in Nagaland, India, the man became enthralled with his camera. He expressed that he would love to learn more about photography and perhaps one day could have his own booth to sell his photographs.

"So when I got back to base in Bangalore, I just sent him my first camera," Goswami said. "We ourselves are limited because freelancing doesn't pay much, but we wanted to explore the possibility, can we do more?"

Now that Goswami and Shetty are on the road, they are living paycheck to paycheck so they need help to sustain their work for the next year without interruption. Through word of mouth on Facebook and the amazing generosity of strangers, including one person they didn't know who donated $5,000, they have managed to raise $18,060 during their Indiegogo campaign. But they only have six days left. If you'd like to donate and help their cause, they would be eternally grateful. You can donate here

Check out Akshatha and Piyush discussing their project: